THE READER
April
2007

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Newsbites

Reprinted with permission.

Governor Doyle proclaims 2007 “Year of Agriculture”

Urging citizens to work to understand the value of Wisconsin’s farm and forest lands and take part in protecting those lands, Governor Jim Doyle has proclaimed 2007 the Year of Agriculture in the state.

The Governor’s proclamation was issued in conjunction with the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters’ multiyear initiative, “The Future of Farming and Rural Life in Wisconsin.” The study is looking at the state’s potential for sustainable economic growth through agriculture, and will culminate in action and policy recommendations for Wisconsin agriculture and rural communities.

“…The health and future of Wisconsin’s rural, urban and suburban communities are inextricably linked…a rural renaissance is possible for Wisconsin’s rural communities with well-informed and forward looking initiatives and grassroots support…” the proclamation reads in part.

In proclaiming 2007 the Year of Agriculture, Doyle noted Wisconsin’s: agricultural heritage and identity; leadership position in agriculture and forestry; strong conservation ethic; growing interest in local and specialty foods as well as in sustainable agricultural practices; good position to encourage growth in bio-industries.

“I urge all citizens, state businesses, nonprofits, local governments, agencies, schools, universities and other institutions to act daily to enhance their understanding of the essential value of our working lands and natural resources; to work toward public education and civic engagement in responsible land use planning, sustainable agricultural practices, and appreciation of our valuable land resources; and to support public policy efforts that will improve and sustain the health of our lands and the communities dependent upon their viability,” the Governor’s proclamation says.

For more information about the Future of Farming and Rural Life in Wisconsin initiative, including a statewide conference May 14-15, visit www.wisconsinacademy.org/idea.

Doomsday Arctic seed vault designed to withstand all perils

A fail-safe vault designed to protect the agricultural heritage of humankind–the seeds essential to agriculture of every nation–will be constructed this year on the Arctic island of Svalbard not far from the North Pole.

The vault is being dug into a mountainside near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Construction is scheduled to begin in March 2007 and to be completed in September 2007. The vault will officially open in late winter 2008.

The number of seeds stored will depend on the number of countries participating in the project. The project aims to prevent needed plants from going extinct or becoming rare if a nuclear war were to break out, because of gene pollution from genetically engineered plants, or due to disease or global warming.

“Every day that passes we lose crop biodiversity. We must conserve the seeds that will allow agriculture to adapt to challenges such as climate change and crop disease,” said Dr. Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which will co-fund the vault’s operations and pay for the preparation and transport of seeds from all developing nations to Svalbard. -Environment News Service

Congressional leaders call for single food safety agency

In mid-February, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation to put all food safety responsibilities under a single new Food Safety Administrator. The Safe Food Act also would modernize the 100-year old food safety laws, and give the new chief a unified budget. The legislation is supported by the nonprofit food safety and nutrition watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The government’s finite food safety resources are not equitably split between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Bush Administration’s 2008 budget proposal makes matters worse, according to CSPI. USDA regulates 20 percent of the nation’s food supply, and the Administration proposes giving the department $270 million in new money for food safety and security. FDA regulates 80 percent of the food supply, including fresh vegetables like spinach and lettuce, but it will get only $10.6 million in new food safety money, despite being under-funded already.

The Safe Food Act would create a Food Safety Administration, similar to the Environmental Protection Agency, which would take responsibility for food safety and labeling from USDA and FDA. The bill would also establish a comprehensive program to protect public health and bolster consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply. Currently, food safety monitoring, inspection, and labeling functions are spread across 12 federal agencies.

The Safe Food Act would consolidate the activities of various federal agencies responsible for the nation’s food supply including USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service. The bill also includes a traceback provision, gives the new agency recall authority, and requires more frequent inspections to help prevent future E. coli outbreaks.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently designated food safety as one of the high-risk federal government programs. Agriculture, including all food production, is about 13 percent of the gross domestic product, and the largest industry in the U.S., according to GAO.

Unsafe food poses a significant burden on consumers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million people suffer from food borne illness each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Children and the elderly are most likely to experience severe cases of illness and death from food borne pathogens. Outbreaks, like the one that occurred last fall from tainted spinach, can easily exceed $100 million in damages to both victims and the industry. -Center for Science in the Public Interest